The best books I have read in 2021

A couple of years ago I started to keep a list in my phone of all the books I read each year. It’s great to look back over them and take stock of what I’ve been reading!

In 2020 I only managed ten books. In my defence there was a lot going on that year and I didn’t really get my normal holidays due to the pandemic! I’d also note that one of the ten was A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which was 720 pages long and took me ages. It was worth it though, as I explain in my books I read in 2020 post last year.

This year I have managed 21 books, so I’m feeling quite proud of myself! If you’re looking for a recommendation, here are my favourites (in no particular order!)

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

By Suzanne Collins

Suitable for Year 8+

I love the Hunger Games books, and Suzanne Collins revisited the world of Panem for this prequel following the early life of Coriolanus Snow – the President Snow of Katniss Everdeen’s story – in the early years of the Hunger Games. As well as adding additional colour and detail to the world of the books – including the origin of the “Hanging Tree” folk song – I found this a gripping and exciting tale, with lots of twists and turns.

A Skinful of Shadows

By Frances Hardinge

Suitable for Year 7+

I think Frances Hardinge is my current favourite young adult author. I read The Lie Tree last year and Deeplight this year as well, but A Skinful of Shadows was really terrific. Set in the English Civil War, it mixes historical fiction with some supernatural fantasy as the twelve-year-old narrator, a girl called Makepeace, discovers that she has inherited a paranormal gift from her family – the ability to host the ghostly spirits of the dead within her. This discovery leads her on a breathtaking adventure – part espionage thriller, part gothic horror – that had me hooked throughout.

Piranesi

By Susanna Clarke

Suitable for Year 9+

Every now and again you come across a book of such audacious originality that you marvel at how boundless the human imagination really is. This was one such book. The concept of this story is so unexpected that I find it astonishing that anyone could ever have dreamt it up! Piranesi, the narrator, lives in a strange house with many rooms and levels, which also hosts an ocean. He is surrounded by statues, and he is alone except for the occasional visits of someone known only as The Other. As Piranesi explores, he begins to suspect that the world he knows is not all that it appears to be…to say any more would be to spoil the story. If you read it, prepare to have your mind blown!

Hamnet

By Maggie O’Farrell

Suitable for Year 10+

In another breathtaking act of imagination, Maggie O’Farrell tells the story of the life and early death of Hamnet, William Shakespeare’s son. We know from the historical record that Hamnet was a twin, and that he died aged 11. Scholars have long imagined that Shakespeare’s grief for his lost son inspired the play Hamlet, written a few years later. O’Farrell takes these ideas and spins them into an enthralling tale, where Shakespeare himself is really a fringe character, who is never mentioned by name. This is, rather, the tale of his wife, Agnes, who is brought to vivid life in simply stunning prose. An unforgettable read.

A Promised Land

By Barack Obama

Suitable for Year 9+

In this first part of his autobiography, President Obama takes us through his early life, his education, his entry into politics and into his first term in the White House. It is a long read, but all the more fascinating for it. As well as giving the inside view on what happened, Obama explains the rationale for decisions he made – good and bad – and the consequences and responsibilities he carried as a result. What I found most touching was his discussion of balancing his career with his responsibilities as a husband and father: having read Michelle Obama’s book Becoming a couple of years ago, it was fascinating to see her husband’s perspective on the same events and issues. The book concludes with an account of the mission to eliminate Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks: you can feel the tension in every word on the page. I can’t wait for part two!

An American Marriage

By Tayari Jones

Suitable for Year 11+

This was the first book I read in 2021, and I loved it so much I went on to read the author’s first book, Silver Sparrow, in the summer. The novel tells the story of a young black couple, Celestial and Roy, in the southern United States. Their marriage is placed under pressure when Roy is arrested and convicted for a crime Celestial knows he did not commit. The unravelling of the consequences of this fateful event is brilliantly told, and the novel explores the complexity of racial tensions in America throughout. Tayari Jones is an astonishing writer – Silver Sparrow is just as good.

Anything is possible

by Gareth Southgate

Suitable for Year 7+

I was caught up in football fever this summer as England looked like they might just win something! Although that didn’t quite go to plan, Gareth Southgate’s calm, positive leadership of the England setup as been an inspiration. In this book – aimed at children – he uses his own life story to pass on messages about how to achieve your goals (not just in the footballing sense!) with wisdom, good sense, and practical advice. I gave a copy to each of our new House Captains this year to help them in their leadership roles – they said they liked it too! Highly recommended, whether you’re into football or not.

To The Lighthouse

by Virginia Woolf

Suitable for Year 9+

I last read To The Lighthouse when I was at university, as part of my degree. I was reminded of it when it was the subject of an episode of the Literate podcast, reviewing the New York Public Library’s books of the 20th century, and picked it up to remind myself why it was so special. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a book in which very little happens: in the first section, the Ramsay family and their house guests spend the afternoon and evening together at their holiday home; in the short middle section, “Time Passes”, taking in the First World War and the changes to the family; and in the final section, several of the characters return to the holiday house to complete the long-promised but not-completed journey to the lighthouse off the coast. It doesn’t sound like much, but Virginia Woolf uses it to explore the depths of human relationships, the nature of art, and our perceptions of one another. Her writing is simply astonishing.

As you can tell, I love talking about books, so if you’ve read one of the books on this year’s favourites list, please tell me what you thought of it in the comments below. I’m also open to recommendations for my “to read” pile, which is currently substantial but not endless!

Christmas Concert 2021

Christmas always comes early at Churchill, as we hold our Christmas Concert in late November! This year we were back at the Playhouse theatre in Weston-super-Mare, where we last performed Sweeney Todd in February 2020. It was great to be back!

Junior Choir in action

The Performing Arts team have been amazing in keeping music, dance and drama going through the pandemic last year, where there were restrictions on choral singing and playing woodwind and brass instruments. Thankfully, this year those restrictions have been lifted and the team have been unleashed! As a result we had performances from Brass, Flute and Clarinet ensembles, along with Concert Band, Big Orchestra and String Orchestra, giving us fantastic pieces from their repertoire including classical, modern and festive music.

There were also four choirs on the bill: the classical Chamber Choir, our Youthful Spirit gospel choir, the Year 7-10 choir and the massed ranks of the Year 7 and 8 Junior Choir which closed the show. There’s no doubt that the Junior Choir was a great way to finish the night, telling the Christmas story through music (and synchronised actions!) There were some incredible soloists fronting the choir, with Lucy Donovan, Anna Pope, Ella Phippen, Ben Marks, Ben Payne and Joe Armfelt wowing the audience!

The concert also showcased our student leaders, with Peter Skeen (Year 12) conducting Big Orchestra, Bori Gunyits and Miyah Barker (Year 13) conducting the Year 7-10 choir, Toby Wilson (Year 10) arranging pieces for Big Orchestra and String Orchestra, and the highly efficient backstage crew led by Mimi Mendl and Mia Wakeling (Year 13). All of the songs performed by Junior Choir were also composed by our students!

The first half concluded with an early showcase for next spring’s production of Rock of Ages. The stage was fizzing with energy and the double cast gave us a taste of what to expect when we return to the Playhouse between 16th and 18th February 2022 for what promises to be a spectacular show.

A huge thank you goes out to all the staff from the Academy and the Playhouse who helped get the concert together, to the wonderful audiences across the two nights, and to the amazing students who owned the stage. It felt good to be back!

Perseverance

This week the Cambridge Dictionary announced their word of the year for 2021: Perseverance.

Perseverance is defined as “continued effort to do or achieve something, even when this is difficult or takes a long time.” It seems to capture the spirit of our time: our determination to overcome the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, our commitment to battle against climate change, and to heal the divisions in our society. None of these issues have easy or quick solutions, but we know that the reward will be worth the effort.

The Perseverance Rover on the surface of Mars, pictured with the Ingenuity helicopter (source)

The Cambridge Dictionary was alerted to the currency of “perseverance” in 2021 because people looked it up over 243,000 times. 30,487 of these searches were between February 18 and February 24, after NASA’s Perseverance Rover landed on Mars on February 18. The rover, like Curiosity before it, captures the distinctly human spirit of achieving the apparently impossible: landing a car-sized robot on a planet 380 million kilometres away, and driving it around on the surface. As if that wasn’t enough, Perseverance deployed a tiny helicopter on the surface, which flies around in the Martian atmosphere. It’s called – appropriately enough – Ingenuity.

Ingenuity takes flight on another world (source)

We can’t help but be inspired by the achievements of the NASA team behind Perseverance and Ingenuity. Although our personal challenges may be more modest than flying a helicopter on the surface of Mars, they are no less worthy or worthwhile. Becoming the best people we can be is not a short or simple task. It takes commitment, effort and time. It requires a “never give up” spirit. This is something we pride ourselves on at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. It’s why our vision is “to set no limits on what we can achieve.” Because – if we persevere – we can accomplish incredible things.

Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day is a vital moment for us to call to mind those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have today. During the silence we observe, we all experience an identical minute between the bells, but in our private inner worlds each person has an unknown and unique journey as we reflect on what remembrance means to us.

I always preface the silence with my classes with a little about why Remembrance Day is particularly important to me. I tell them about my Grandfather, an officer in the Royal Navy, serving in the Arctic convoys and captaining a minesweeper, before working on the Pluto programme to supply fuel to the beaches on D Day. After the war he returned to teaching as Headmaster of Grasmere school, where he worked until retirement. Sacrifice is not always about death. We remember the fallen but also those who were – and still are – prepared to risk their lives to defend our society. We can learn a lot from their individual sacrifice for the collective good.

Soldiers in a trench on the Somme, 1916

Each year I display a poem on the board for the students to read if they wish. Some like – or need – a focus for the minute. Previously I have used Sassoon, Owen, and McCrae, but in recent years I have favoured Mametz Wood by Owen Sheers. This poem is so resonant and powerful in its description of the uncovering of the remnants of the battle of the Somme in peacetime as farmers plough. Sheers has spoken eloquently of the inspiration for the poem as he visited the site:

Walking over that same ground, now a ploughed field, 85 years later I was struck by how remnants of the battle – strips of barbed wire, shells, fragments of bone, were still rising to the surface. It was as if the earth under my feet that was now being peacefully tilled for food could not help but remember its violent past and the lives that had sunk away into it. Entering the wood, a ‘memory’ of the battle was still evident there too. Although there was a thick undergrowth of trailing ivy and brambles, it undulated through deep shell holes. My knowledge of what had caused those holes in the ground and of what had happened among those trees stood in strange juxtaposition to the summer calmness of the wood itself; the dappled sunlight, the scent of wild garlic, the birdsong filtering down from the higher branches.

The military cemetery at Mametz

As we remember the Great War it is our duty and privilege as teachers to help the next generation reach back into the collective memory of our violent past and hope with all our hearts for a peaceful future in their hands.

Mametz Wood
by Owen Sheers

For years afterwards the farmers found them –
the wasted young, turning up under their plough blades
as they tended the land back into itself.

A chit of bone, the china plate of a shoulder blade,
the relic of a finger, the blown
and broken bird’s egg of a skull,

all mimicked now in flint, breaking blue in white
across this field where they were told to walk, not run,
towards the wood and its nesting machine guns.

And even now the earth stands sentinel,
reaching back into itself for reminders of what happened
like a wound working a foreign body to the surface of the skin.

This morning, twenty men buried in one long grave,
a broken mosaic of bone linked arm in arm,
their skeletons paused mid dance-macabre

in boots that outlasted them,
their socketed heads tilted back at an angle
and their jaws, those that have them, dropped open.

As if the notes they had sung
have only now, with this unearthing,
slipped from their absent tongues.

(Source)

This blog is a revised version of a post I originally published in 2014.

Going Green: Churchill and #COP26

The COP26 summit is an opportunity to change the world. Leaders are meeting in Glasgow to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. They will attempt to agree significant actions to reduce carbon emissions, control global warming, and save our planet for future generations. Whether they succeed or not, is out of our hands. But, at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, we are committed to doing what we can to reduce our impact on the environment, and to improving the prospects of a greener future for our students and those that follow in their footsteps.

Our commitment

We’ve taken the Let’s Go Zero pledge, declaring our aim to become zero carbon by 2030. We know that schools can be the trailblazers for their community, responding to young people’s calls for action.  In fact, they can inspire whole communities to tackle the climate crisis. In the coming pivotal ‘climate decade,’ we will be part of Let’s Go Zero’s national network of schools and sustainability organisations, sharing information about how to reach zero carbon, and working with local councils and government to make it happen.  

Our ambition

In our aim to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030, we will:

  • Recycle more waste material than we send to landfill
  • Achieve the decarbonisation of our heating system on site, reducing reliance on gas 
  • Re-invest financial savings from sustainability initiatives back into programmes that will deliver towards our carbon emission target

We will show Kindness to the environment, demonstrate Curiosity when looking at how to do things differently, and practice Determination to make a positive difference.

Here are some of the things we’ve already done:

The built environment

Over the past five years we have transformed the built environment of our Academy. In 2019 we finally demolished the original school building, the 1956 block which was latterly home to Tudor House, Science, IT and Business. The energy-inefficient, single-glazed, concrete building has been replaced by modern, well-insulated facilities including the Alan Turing Building and the Athene Donald Building. Both of these were built with sustainability in mind, not just in their construction methods but as sources of energy generation. The roofs of both blocks are completely covered in solar panels, as you can see in the shot of the Athene Donald Building below:

It’s not just the new builds, either. We have solar panels across the roofs of Performing Arts and Music as well, as you can see in the latest Google Maps satellite images of our site:

We are currently halfway through the complete internal rebuild of the Stuart and Lancaster House building, home to languages and humanities. This includes ripping out and completely replacing all the heating, lighting and electrical systems to run as efficiently as possible, as well as ensuring the building is properly insulated and ventilated.

Hot water

A point-of-use water heater

This is the unglamorous part of decarbonisation! Previously, hot water for the site was provided by tanks, heated by boilers in big boiler room facilities for each separate block. This process was energy-inefficient and wasteful, as it heated large amounts of water whether it was needed or not. Over the past year we have been phasing out these hot water tanks and replacing them with point-of-use water heaters, which only heat water as it is needed. These heaters reduce wasted energy, and also free up spaces which previously housed tanks and boilers for storage. We will continue this work in the future.

Lighting

All of our new builds and refurbished facilities have been equipped with LED lighting, and over the past years we have been phasing out any remaining fluorescent tubes to replace them with energy-efficient units. They actually provide better quality light too! Many of our corridor lights are now linked to motion sensors as well, so they are not on unnecessarily, and the external lighting has been upgraded as well. Let there be light!

Recycling

We have always tried to recycle as much waste as possible, and this term we have increased the number of recycling bins on site to encourage pre-sorting of waste as it is thrown away.

The real battle, of course, is reducing the amount of waste we produce in the first place! There is much we can still do in this area, and students and staff are already moving forward with plans to use technology instead of paper, to reduce packaging waste, and to continue our battle against litter.

The green environment

We are lucky in our rural site, surrounded by trees, fields, orchards, and the Mendip Hills. We do all we can to preserve and enhance our green and pleasant site wherever possible. This includes a massive programme of tree planting across the site, including across our car parks and around the perimeter. We are also keen to encourage biodiversity, working with local partners to ensure the wildlife that shares our environment can continue to flourish.

Student Leadership

The student-led Green Team has been operating in the Sixth Form for the past five years. Previously they have introduced reusable and recyclable coffee cups for the Common Room, used the “no power hour” to highlight energy usage, and redeveloped the pond area next to the Sixth Form Centre. This year, the Green Team has great plans – and they’re going whole school, to bring main school students on board too. Look out for further updates later this year!

Energy and CO2 impact so far

Our CO2 monitoring graph, with future projections

The efforts above have already had a significant impact on our CO2 emissions, which have been cut by half in the past five years. We know there is more to do if we are to achieve our ambition to be an environmentally sustainable institution – in particular, reducing our reliance on gas, and continuing to improve the efficiency of our site. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved so far – but we’re just getting started.

Review of Term 1

We’ve reached the end of term 1 of the 2021-22 academic year. Whilst he summer holidays seem like an age ago, the term has gone by in a flash!

We began the term at the end of August with on-site testing for students beginning the academic year. The amazing team of staff completed 2664 lateral flow tests over seven days, including 649 tests in one day. This process allowed us to get the term underway as safely as possible.

Our new Year 7 and Year 12 students were the first to start back, getting to grips with their new surroundings, new expectations and new curriculum with great energy and enthusiasm. Before long, they were joined by the returning students in other years, keen to be back and ready to learn. The Academy now has the largest number of students on roll in over a decade, with 1668 students currently attending!

Some of our students have achieved amazing things this term!

I began the year with my “welcome back” assemblies, outlining our expectations and highlighting the Academy’s priorities for the year ahead. Since that point we have seen excellent progress across all our priorities. I have been particularly impressed this year by our student leaders, including the inclusion and diversity group who prepared a thought-provoking assembly for students over recent weeks. Staff have also had some really powerful training in this area, as well as teachers working in small professional development groups to explore ideas around metacognition and self-regulated learning, which we are all putting into practice in our classrooms. This work accompanies the launch of our new curriculum, and I have seen some really fantastic innovative and interesting lessons being taught across the Academy throughout this term. Our fifth priority this year is sustainability – and I have a blog post planned to coincide with the COP26 summit in November to tell you what we have been up to, and what we have planned, as we work towards a greener future.

I spent an enjoyable hour with a panel of our youngest students towards the end of September, finding out about their experiences of starting at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form in 2021. This was soon followed by the return of our Open Evening – the first in-person event since the pandemic began. We were inundated with interest and it was so lovely to show off our school to so many curious families!

We are also continuing the redevelopment of our learning environment, with work ongoing in Stuart House to create climate-controlled, sound-insulated, 21st century classrooms for the teaching of History, Geography and RE. Stuart House tutors and Humanities teachers and classes have been really flexible this term as their home base has been completely gutted, but there are positive signs already as the walls are put back in place. We are still on track to reopen these facilities in March 2022!

One of the real pleasures this term has been the return of our extra-curricular programme. Chess Club was one of the first to get started, and it was soon joined by many more. Our Duke of Edinburgh expeditions have been out and returned safely, and students have finally been able to go back to the theatre! After the end of the school day, the Academy echoes with the sounds of music, dance and drama from Performing Arts, including this year’s production of Rock of Ages which is already sounding terrific. And, of course, extra-curricular PE is back, with training and fixtures most days. You can see our full extra-curricular programme on the Academy website.

Sadly COVID has continued to cause disruption. This term has seen many students and staff self-isolating with infections, and as a result face coverings were re-introduced for main school students indoors. We are grateful to everyone for doing their bit to help, including staff covering for absent colleagues, families offering support and words of encouragement, and students for adapting to the protective measures without a fuss. Although it has been difficult, we have not been as badly hit as some other schools where lessons have been suspended for entire year groups, and some have been forced to close altogether. Nonetheless, we all need the half term to recover, before we see what November and December have in store for us!

Term 2 is certainly packed. As the nights draw in, we have concerts and celebrations to look forward to. Year 11 will be taking their mock exams, which this year are especially significant in light of the latest announcements around exams in 2022. Before we know it, I will be breaking out the festive knitwear and looking forward to Christmas!

I’d like to thank all the staff, students and families in our Academy community for making this term such a pleasure. A school full of children is a joyous place to be – and Churchill students are simply the best. Enjoy your half term everyone – I will see you in November.

Making the leap

In 2016, Luke Aikins became the first person to complete a planned jump from an aeroplane without a parachute or a wingsuit. Jumping from 25,000 feet, he sped earthwards before eventually landing in a net just 30m square.

Such behaviour might seem like complete madness to most people. The nerve required to take that leap of faith is unimaginable. But the experienced skydiver had been preparing for this moment for 18 months, as had the team around him. He had practised the movements he would need to make to adjust his freefall to hit the target precisely, and he had worked with gymnasts to rehearse the flip he would need to perform to ensure he landed safely on his back (you can see him practising the “flip” move at about 1:30 into the video above).

Meanwhile, the net was precision engineered to cushion his impact. Civil Engineer John Cruikshank had worked out the maths and physics required to slow the plummeting man from 193km/h to zero safely. The net was suspended high in the air from four cranes, supported by air pistons which would compress on impact. It took eight months of testing to be sure that the mechanism would work safely.

The landing site

I use Luke Aikins’ story when I am talking to students about preparing for their exams. Aikins has his team around him, supporting him, for the first part of his fall. These are teachers, friends, family. But there is a moment of truth – about 1:40 into the video for Luke Aikins -when you are on your own and you have to rely on all the preparation you have done to deliver the result you want. It’s just you and the task in hand. The better your preparation, the higher the chance of a good outcome. Of course, it’s never guaranteed: even with the best preparation in the world, things can sometimes go wrong. That’s why it’s never possible to take the stress out of such situations completely. But, if you know that you’ve practised, you know what you need to do, and you know how to do it, you will have the confidence to make the leap and land safely.

We all need to take a deep breath before we make our leap. But, if we know we’ve prepared as well as possible, it gives us the confidence to take that step and – as far as we can – to enjoy the ride.

What’s happening with exams in 2022?

Last week, the exams regulator (Ofqual) and the Department for Education published information about how exams will work in 2022. This included information about adaptations to exams to accommodate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education, the standards which will be used to grade examinations in 2022, results days, and contingency plans in case the pandemic further disrupts education this year. In this week’s blog, I have summarised the key announcements which affect Churchill students taking GCSE, A-level, Cambridge National, BTEC, Cambridge Technical and other qualifications for assessment in summer 2022. I have also recorded a short presentation for students, which you can view below.

Adaptations to exams

Ofqual and the Department for Education have recognised that the pandemic has significantly impacted the educational experience of students over the past two years. To take account of this, the following adaptations will be made to examinations in 2022:

  • GCSE English literature, history, and geography: there will be optional topic and content for these qualifications. This means that certain topics, normally on the specification for assessment, will not be required for the exams in 2022. At Churchill, this means:
    • GCSE English literature: the poetry anthology will not be assessed
    • GCSE history: Elizabethan England 1558-1588 will not be assessed
    • GCSE geography: paper 1, topic 3: challenges of an urbanising world will not be assessed
  • GCSE sciences: if necessary, centres will be allowed to deliver practical work in GCSE sciences by demonstration. We will not be using this adaptation at Churchill as we believe it is essential that students taking GCSE sciences experience practical work themselves, rather than simply seeing it demonstrated.
  • A level sciences: centres will be allowed to assess the Common Practical Assessment Criteria (CPAC) across the minimum number of practical activities required to enable students to demonstrate their competence in A-level biology, chemistry, and physics. We will not be using this adaptation as we believe it is important for our A-level scientists to experience the full range of practical work available to them with our state-of-the-art equipment and facilities in the Athene Donald Building. We believe that this will support their progress and lead to better examination outcomes.
  • GCSE and A-level art and design and textiles: students taking GCSE, AS and A level art and design (including textiles) will be assessed on their portfolio only, with no final examination.
  • Advance notice for all other GCSE, AS and A-level subjects: exam boards will provide advanced information about the focus of the content of exams for all GCSE, AS and A-level subjects except GCSE English literature, history, and geography by 7 February 2022 at the latest. This is normally the time by which the majority of courses of study have been completed, and teaching turns to exam preparation and revision. This adaptation means that teachers and candidates will know which topics will and won’t come up in the exams in the summer, enabling revision to focus just on those aspects which will be assessed.
  • Formula sheets: students will be given a formula sheet for GCSE mathematics and a revised equation sheet for GCSE physics and combined science. This means that they will not need to memorise so many formulae and equations in preparation for the exams – although they will still need to know how and when to use them correctly.

We think that this is a reasonable and fair set of adaptations to take account of pandemic disruption. It will relieve pressure on the intensive revision period through the spring, enabling students and their teachers to focus on the content they will need for their exams in the summer.

Grading standards

There has been much discussion about what standard will be used to assess examinations in 2022. The “standard” essentially means deciding how many candidates should receive each grade in each subject – how many “A” grades, “B” grades and so on there should be (or the equivalent numerical grades at GCSE). A significantly higher number of candidates achieved the top grades nationally in 2020 and 2021 under the Centre Assessed Grades and Teacher Assessed Grades systems used in place of exams, than achieved top grades the last time exams were sat (in 2019).

Ofqual has announced that it intends to get back quickly to how grading was before the pandemic. However, to recognise the disruption from the pandemic, they won’t do it in one jump. Instead, 2022 will be a transition year to reflect that we are in a pandemic recovery period. The standard set by Ofqual for 2022 will reflect a point midway between 2021 and 2019 when it comes to grading, before returning in 2023 to results that are in line with those before the pandemic began. Jo Saxton, the Chief Regulator, explains the rationale for this decision in a blog on Ofqual’s website, which you can read here.

We feel this is a reasonable compromise, with a return to normal exam standards preceded by a transition year which recognises the disruption caused by COVID-19. It means that more top grades will be available to students in 2022 than was the case in 2019, or than will be the case in 2023. All students, across England, will be competing across the same exam papers to achieve those grades.

We do not yet know what this midway point between 2021 and 2019 will look like on a subject-by-subject basis. Exam boards will use data as a starting point, to align their standards in a subject. But the grade boundaries for each subject will be set by the senior examiners after they have reviewed the work produced by students in their exams – these boundaries will not be available to teachers or to candidates in advance.

UCAS predicted grades

For Year 13 students applying to university or other courses through UCAS, teachers have been advised to use the 2019 standards to determine predicted grades. This is because 2019 was the last time clear grade boundaries in each subject were published, so it is the only consistent standard it is possible to use. Here at Churchill we will use existing Year 12 assessments and the 2019 grading standards to generate UCAS predicted grades, although we will follow the regulator’s guidance to give any borderline students the benefit of any doubt in this process. Please remember, however, that UCAS predictions are made by teachers using their professional judgment and experience; they cannot be negotiated upwards by students or their families.

Results Days

Results days will be on:

  • Thursday 18th August 2022: AS, A-level and other level 3 qualifications
  • Thursday 25th August 2022: GCSE and other level 2 qualifications

Further details about the format of these days will be released nearer the time.

Contingency Plans

Having learned the lesson of the past two years, I am pleased to confirm that the government is drawing up contingency plans in case the pandemic takes an unexpected turn and exams cannot proceed in summer 2022 as planned. The current proposals are that Teacher Assessed Grades would again be used, but with much clearer guidance on the kinds of evidence that could be used to support the teacher assessment. This is likely to be based around mock exams in the majority of subjects.

At Churchill, we hope and expect that exams will go ahead as planned in 2022. However, all examination candidates, especially those in Year 11 and 13, should prepare for their mock exams as though they were the real thing. Not only will this provide a good evidence base in case of further disruption, but it will put students at a significant advantage in terms of revision and preparation for the summer.

Exam preparation advice

Balance in all things (source)

The announcements last week confirm the plan for exams to go ahead in 2022, with some additional support to recognise the disruption to education that students have experienced. We believe these measures are as fair as could be expected in the circumstances.

Our message to students is this: your exams are going ahead. You know what you need to revise, and you will be able to focus this even more as you approach the summer. Listen to the feedback you get from your teachers, and use the revision techniques that you have been given and that will continue to be provided throughout the year. Don’t leave it all until the last minute: you should be revising consistently, a little and often, throughout this year.

Above all, keep a sense of balance and proportion: these exams are important, and we know they really matter, but you also need to look after yourselves. Make sure you are taking regular breaks, maintaining your leisure activities, and talking to someone you trust if you are struggling. We want you to get the best possible results, whilst staying healthy: keeping things in balance and proportion is your top priority. We will do everything we can to support you with this.

Open Evening 2021

It was great to welcome so many visitors to the Academy on Wednesday evening for our annual Open Evening. Having designed and run a virtual event last year, we worked hard to open up the Academy safely to visitors so they could make an informed choice of secondary school.

In pre-pandemic times, we would gather visitors in the Academy hall to hear the perspectives of our students, and a presentation from myself. This year, to avoid overcrowding, we put that presentation online and sent it out to everyone who had pre-booked tickets in advance. It was playing in the hall anyway, so anyone could see it if they wanted to! And here it is: Sixth Form student Bethan, House Captain Pritika, and Year 7 students Jude and Frankie give their perspectives on Churchill, alongside my explanation of why I think Churchill is the right choice for secondary education.

Putting this presentation online really helped ensure a smooth flow of visitors through the Academy, with plenty of time for them to visit all the departments and learn as much as they could about Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. Our younger visitors had the opportunity to collect a sticker from every department they visited, and a complete set was rewarded with a “future student” pin badge from the Sixth Form Centre.

Open Evening is always an event that makes me feel so proud of Churchill. I feel like it “opens the lid” on our school for others to see what I see every day! Our staff, brimming with enthusiasm for their subjects and the extra-curricular programme. Our buildings, more and more reflecting the state-of-the-art learning environment we are developing. And, above all, our students. They really are amazing. Tour guides, department helpers, student leaders, and performers of every discipline turned out in huge numbers. They conducted themselves knowledgeably, confidently, articulately and with such enthusiasm about the Academy – it was wonderful to see and hear! Many of them spoke about how glad they were to be back in school after the long lockdowns of recent years, and the video below captures some of what they are looking forward to the most.

Churchill has been oversubscribed every year from 2017 onwards, with waiting lists operating in all year groups at the moment. If you were at our open evening this week, you will understand why. It’s humbling to know that so many families put their trust in us. They trust that we will help make a positive difference to the most important thing in their lives – their children. And that, in turn, their children will make a positive difference to themselves, to the Academy, and to the wider world around them. That is why we do what we do. And there’s nothing that makes me prouder.

Catching up with our new Year 7s

Our new Year 7 students have coped brilliantly with the transition from primary to secondary school – especially considering that the usual transition day and drama day could not happen “in person” this year because of the pandemic. This meant that, for many of them, their first time stepping on site was the day before term started for their COVID tests! Despite all the challenges, staff have been full of praise for the attitude and approach our youngest students have shown.

I’m always keen to hear from our students themselves, so I spent an hour last week with four of our newest students – Charlotte, Issy, Maddie and James – to find out what it was like for them moving up from primary school to Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. What follows is a transcript of our conversation!

The Year 7 student panel in my office, 16th September 2021

What was it like moving up from primary school?

  • Issy: I was kind of disappointed not to have the transition day, but we did have Churchill teachers visit us in primary.
  • Charlotte: Yes, we had Mr Cross and Mrs Moon visit us. With them coming to our primary school, it really helped a lot.
  • Maddie: Mr Cross, Mrs McKay and Mrs Moon came, and it was nice because they talked to us about what was going to happen. They showed us the uniform, the planners, and how it was all going to work.

Now that you’re here, did they tell you everything you needed to know? Was there anything you wished you knew that you didn’t know?

  • Maddie: Not really! They gave us a lot of information. And there wasn’t anything they didn’t tell us. They didn’t mention how long we’d have to queue for food!

You started the year coming in for your COVID tests. How was that?

  • Issy: It was fine. We got to look around the school a bit, and we snuck around to see what it was like.
  • Maddie: For our tests, we came in one way and out another, so we didn’t really see how things joined up. Things make more sense now I know where everything is.

On your first day, it was just Year 7. What was that like?

  • Maddie: it was so quiet!
  • Charlotte: it’s so busy now!

What’s it like now?

  • Issy: it’s nice to see some of the people from years before, who came before I did and who have now been at Churchill for a few years.
  • Charlotte: I was really worried about coming in and there being lots of other years, like Year 10s, Year 9s, Year 8s, but then coming in on the first day and it being just Year 7s was really helpful because I didn’t get so nervous. That was the main thing I was nervous about…that and getting lost, but then we got shown around so we didn’t get lost and it’s pretty easy once you know where things are.

Have any of your got lost?

  • All: not properly…
  • Issy: I got lost twice, trying to find the toilets in the block! I was kind of worried, that I would get lost, but I haven’t really.
  • Maddie: it was really nice having just the year 7s on the first day, because it was like everyone was getting lost together, and there wasn’t a load of other people around at the same time who know exactly where they’re going, but they’re really old and I don’t want to ask them!

And what about the older students? How has that been now that the school is full again?

  • Issy: I know most of my friends’ siblings, so it’s okay.
  • Charlotte: it felt quite weird seeing all the older years, and then seeing people from your primary that you hadn’t seen in like four years, and now you’re in the same school as them again…it’s like “I remember you, and I remember you,” and then you just keep saying it to everyone…
  • James: I’ve got used to them…it’s like a stream…they are going to their lessons and we’re going to our lessons
  • Issy: I got stuck at the bottom of the stairs going into Maths as Year 11 were going in…I just had to wait my turn to get to my classroom.
  • James: when all the school is moving around it’s like a river…you have to wait for a break in the stream to get into the flow.

Why did you choose Churchill?

  • James: it was the simplest place to go
  • Charlotte: both of my parents came here
  • Issy: it was the closest, and all of my friends were coming here, and it looked really nice
  • Maddie: we went to look at about five different schools, but they didn’t feel right…and then we came here, and it did feel right. It sounds like a story, but it’s true!

We went to look at about five different schools, but they didn’t feel right…and then we came here, and it did feel right. It sounds like a story, but it’s true!

Maddie, Year 7

How different is it at secondary compared to primary?

  • Charlotte: Definitely secondary is a big difference from primary, it’s like a big step up. At primary we were settled, and it was easy, but then in secondary they really push you to get things better. In secondary they say “you can do it better, believe in yourself, do it.”
  • Issy: It’s a big difference, like Charlotte said, but then I thought we’d get loads of homework. And we do get a lot, but to do over a longer period of time. So at primary school I’d get homework to do every day, like a page, but at secondary we get homework to do by the next week. And also it’s a huge size difference, like it’s about five times the size. And also, at primary, they’d call you in from break so you’d be on time, but at secondary if you’re late, then it’s your fault – nobody’s going to tell you to be on time.
  • Maddie: It’s a lot bigger. The classrooms are a lot bigger, especially in Science. They’re like double the size of my classroom at primary school. I feel a lot more free…that sounds a bit weird, but you feel you can do what you want a lot more. In my primary school, in the dinner hall, they told us “you sit there, you sit there,” but at secondary you can sit with anyone at dinner time.
  • Issy: In primary we had quite a big library, but mainly they were work books. Here there are loads of different types of books, and computer rooms, which I love because I love reading.
  • James: it’s weird because it feels the same, but also different…like I see the same people, and it’s the same kind of routine, but it also feels different. It feels more detached: at primary, we left our books in our drawers, then came home, and it felt like the school life and the home life were different, but here parents are move involved, like if you get an R or a C they can see it, but at primary they’d have to tell them or ring them. On my first day here it felt like it was more of a day trip!

In secondary they really push you to get things better. In secondary they say “you can do it better, believe in yourself, do it.”

Charlotte, Year 7

How have you found making new friends, meeting new people?

  • Charlotte It’s definitely way more than primary because you’re not stuck with the same people from your primary class so you don’t have so you can meet new people from like Wrington primary school Saint Andrews and so on.
  • Issy: It’s a lot easier being able to go round at break and lunch and meet new people.
  • Maddie: It’s really nice because you know people from your learning group and you walk everywhere together and that is so nice because I’ve made a friend that I didn’t know before and now we walk everywhere together.
  • James: It’s more complicated; in like primary school it’s more simple because we had like one social group but here I have a group for tutor, a group for learning groups, a social group…I have different friends for different things. It’s complicated!

Is it what you thought it would be?

  • Charlotte: It’s better than primary where it was more closed up tight. It’s like Maddie said, I just feel free now. You can do what you like, walk everywhere, even walk upstairs and we don’t have to stay in the same room for six hours.
  • Issy: Oh yeah I don’t know how to describe it. It’s just like a huge different group of people now, a huge variety and it’s not going to be the same all the time.
  • Maddie: it’s very different to primary but it’s similar to how I expected.
  • James: I had a lot of time to like imagine because there was six months where everyone was talking about the big Churchill thing! I just imagined it differently but it’s not better or worse, it’s just different than I thought. Like with library I just imagine it like dusky and oak and actually it’s bright and open.

What advice would you give to someone in Year 5 or 6 thinking about coming to Churchill?

  • Charlotte: I would tell them that if they want to go to Churchill then follow your dream and do it and don’t be worried at all because it’ll be fine once you get used to it. It is a big step but then when you’ve done the first day you’ll love it so just follow your dreams.
  • Issy: it may seem huge and it might be for a few days but then they get you get used to it and it feels smaller when you know almost everywhere.
  • Maddie: when you walk through the bit where you come in and you see all the buildings if feels a bit overwhelming, but you get used to it. You feel like… after my first day I thought I’m meant to be here, and it feels like I’ve been here for ages.
  • James: Once you get used to it it’s not really that big of a change. But I do recommend that you have a backup plan in case you miss the bus on the first day, because on the first day I missed the bus and I was very lucky my mum was there!
After all that chat, we had a chance to have a look at the Lego collection I keep in my office!

It was great to hear from our youngest students, who were full of enthusiasm, wisdom and insight. They are already great ambassadors for the Academy – and they’ve only been here a few weeks! Thank you to Charlotte, Maddie, James and Issy for a really enjoyable hour.